Test: Mazda BT-50

By: Cameron Officer, Photography by: Cameron Officer


Mazda BT-50 review Rugged if you need it to be, the BT-50 provides for one of the most compliantly riding utes on the market Mazda BT-50 review
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Mazda BT-50 review Be careful of those alloys on rocks Mazda BT-50 review
Mazda BT-50 review Running boards are standard on the Limited grade BT-50 Mazda BT-50 review

The BT-50’s impressive spec and smooth on-road manners – regardless of what’s in the tray – make it as worthy a contender in the ute market. Farm Trader reviews.

It doesn’t command ‘top seller’ headlines like the Ford Ranger does. It doesn’t boast the highest torque figure (Nissan Navara) or the most gear ratios (Volkswagen Amarok). And somehow, despite having been around for years, it doesn’t push the ‘heritage’ angle either (Toyota Hilux).

It would seem that there’s no quickly identifiable touchstone for the Mazda BT-50, but the manufacturer has been steadily building top-quality utes for decades, and a legion of fans love them for their svelte styling and comfortable ride. I’m inclined to think that where the BT-50 is concerned, high-jacking the old Frosty Boy ice cream slogan might explain the situation best: often overlooked, never beaten.

Double-cab

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Like pretty much every main player in the busy ute market segment, Mazda offers the BT-50 with a combination of single (cab-chassis), so-called ‘Freestyle’ cab-and-a-half and full double-cab bodies.

It’s a double-cab world we live in, though, so the most features and the biggest array of options are reserved for the five-passenger models. The prominence of the double-cab style in every corner of the primary industries is also echoed by the feature set your average ute offers buyers. The BT is no exception.

Yes, we spent time with the top-of-the-tree limited grade model, so it’s perhaps no surprise it comes with almost every specification box ticked. But further down the line-up in GLX and GSX modes, the BT-50 still arrives with modern convenience items on-board: tech such as Bluetooth hands-free phone compatibility, a decent stereo system with iPod-ready USB port, a cabin air filter system, and keyless entry.

Naturally, a move up to the ute in the pictures on these pages – the 4WD Double Cab Limited – increases the good stuff, with items such as an electronically-adjustable driver’s seat with lumbar support, dual-zone air conditioning so those in the back can get warm or cool depending on the season, and black leather seats all accounted for.

Mazda has also recently introduced an upgraded Alpine audio system with an enormous touchscreen display and both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto phone mirroring capabilities (where your phone screen and functions are displayed on the touchscreen in the dashboard, giving you access to your address book, text messages, and music library). The system also gives you inbuilt satellite navigation, with three years’ worth of free map updates.

The arrival of the upgraded infotainment system also means the handy reversing camera display, which used to appear in a small window within the rear-view mirror, now appears much bigger in the audio touchscreen, so it’s easier to gauge distances behind the ute.

The double cab set-up does mean you’re compromised on load space, of course. But the wellside 4WD Double Cab Limited features a locking tailgate and standard tubular side steps, which will help ease the stretch if you’re tarping loads in the back.

Almost autonomous

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There’s a lot of talk at present about the autonomous future of driving. Sure, for the city commute perhaps, but the back paddock? Possibly. Some companies are already experimenting with autonomous off-road technologies that might one day see remote-controlled first response vehicles head into danger zones, such as bushfire zones or across landslips. And wouldn’t it be nice to send your ute off on its feed-out run while you get on with something else?

The thing is, though, today’s utes already come with their fair share of semi-autonomous abilities. The Mazda BT-50 4WD Double Cab, for example, features as standard Trailer Sway Control, which helps keep whatever you’re towing in-line; Hill Descent Control, which brakes individual wheels in order to sustain the most purchase under the wheel while crawling down a slope; Hill Launch Assist, which ‘holds’ the ute as the driver comes off the brake and onto the accelerator when facing up a hill, so as to avoid roll-back; and Load Adaptive Control, which incrementally adjusts vehicle dynamics depending on what’s in the tray.

All of these things are working away behind the scenes, ensuring the ute remains on the straight and narrow. They flatter the driver, sure, but they also make what used to be a much more cumbersome vehicle – utes in general I mean, not Mazdas specifically – as finessed as a passenger car.

Drive it

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Speaking of finesse, the BT-50 is a smooth operator. On the road with an unladen tray, the ute still feels settled and responsive. There’s more than enough bottom end to the torque spread available from the five-cylinder turbo diesel to see you hot foot it through rough terrain or leave that intersection and join the flow at traffic speed, even with a trailer on the back (the BT-50 features a hefty 3500kg braked tow rating).

The Mazda has an unflappable chassis and a relaxed six-speed automatic transmission. There are six-speed manual ‘boxes available if you’re a stickler for a stick shift, but you’ll need to play at the bottom end of the range. And besides, the auto is so compliant even off-road that it makes a strong case for leaving it alone to do its thing. You can still swap cogs manually if you need to.

Another easy-to-use aspect of the BT is its electronic shift-on-the-fly high and low ratio transfer case. A simple dial in front of the gear stick allows the driver to shift between two- and four-wheel drive even while on the move. This isn’t unique to the Mazda, of course, but it’s handy when that backroad turns to gravel all-of-a-sudden.

Limited Edition BT-50

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Not to be confused with the Limited grade ute we’re testing here, Mazda has also recently added a Limited Edition BT-50. Essentially a dress-up over-and-above the GSX grade truck (which sits one below the Limited in the BT-50 line-up), you get extra graphics, a standard tray liner and retractable hard-lid, sports bars, 17-inch alloy wheels and some model-specific detailing inside the cab.

It’s pretty good buying, too, at $43,995 for the front-driver or an extra $10k for the 4WD. But with all that extra kit on-board, it won’t suit the rural user as much. As it is, the BT-50 4WD Double Cab Limited’s 17-inch alloys feature a fair bit of surface area that looks ripe for sacrificing on protruding rocks. If it’s comfort mixed with practicality in the field you’re after, I’d suggest changing out the wheels for something more workmanlike.

The future

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Here’s the bit that Mazda has (perhaps understandably) underplayed lately, but I think could turn out to work massively in its favour: the next-gen BT-50 will be an Isuzu in all but name.

That’s right. Isuzu will take over production of the BT-50 for Mazda, now that the latter has fully divorced itself from its previous decades-old relationship with Ford. Here’s the thing about that as far as I’m concerned – Isuzu possibly makes the most robust light commercial ute on the market right now. A bit like the BT-50, the current D-Max just does its own thing; they sell respectably and are generally well regarded as decent workhorses.

There are many similarities between the two brands, so I’m looking forward to seeing what the next-generation BT looks and drives like.

Verdict

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The Mazda BT-50 remains a great ute, which doesn’t get to share a whole lot of the limelight. Maybe it’s better that way? With the impending Isuzu tie-up, it’s certainly set to double-down on its rugged abilities. I, for one, hope it doesn’t lose its unique style in the process though.

Mazda BT-50 4WD Double Cab Limited specifications

Engine 3.2L 5-cylinder turbo diesel
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Power 147kW
Torque 470Nm
0–100km/h Not stated
Max speed Not stated
Tow rating 3500kg (braked)
Fuel economy 10L/100km

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